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Itinerary comments for Madrid and Southern Spain in June

First, this is a great forum, I have learned so much just pouring through posts and responses.
I’ve also been reading various guide books and think I have come up with a workable 10+ day tour of Spain
I wanted to put my itinerary out for comments and suggestions and ask a few basic questions as this will be our first experience anywhere in Europe.

A few additional questions:
We are planning the trip as a gift for our daughters high school graduation, so we will be traveling in early June.

First thing I’m confused about is the temperature to expect. Some of the guide books make it sound like it’s an oven, and to avoid the Andalusian region at all costs, yet Weather.Com seems to suggest highs in the upper 80s & low 90s…not exactly heat stroke material for us.

Arrival in Madrid: Flight lands at 6:20am, what is the typical checkin time? What are good things to plan for potentially jet lagged family (I sleep like a baby on planes)

Escorted day trips & Sightseeing: While we had a great experience in Quebec with Viator, The books and forum posts seem to suggest I may be better off waiting until I get there and visit the TI which will have listings of local tour guides. Thoughts?

I’m thinking seeing as our plans are still quite fast paced, a structured escorted sight-seeing tour will helpmake sure we see the highlights.

The Itinerary: I had originally planned an escorted tour as I was afraid of the complications of arranging and getting from point A to B. I finally saw the light from some of the forum posts that the escorted tours are WAY too fast paced and you barely have a chance to breathe! So, using their itineraries as a guide, I built the following:

Overnight Flight from Boston to Madrid
4 nights in Madrid, staying at either the Hotel Europa or Hotel Moderno
Museum visits in Madrid
A day trip to Avila & Segovia through Viator (or do we just wing it ourselves?)
A day trip to Toledo

AVE train to Seville (8am – 10:30)
4 nights in Seville at the Donna Maria
1 day trip to Cordoba
1 day trip to Gibraltar

Train to Granada
(Either early train arrive 11am or spend day in Seville and arrive 19:00, or half day in Sev half day in Granada)
2 nights in Granada at the Macia Plaza

Flight back to Boston
Fly out of Granada and connect in Madrid. Thought about the train, get to see some scenery, but to avoid any problems with a train delay, we would have to spend another night in Madrid.

Posted by
4535 posts

I think this is a very workable itinerary. And the good thing about daytrips, is that if you find you need to slow down or don't have the energy, just skip the daytrip and stay in town.

To answer some of your questions... Hotel check in is mid-afternoon but always go there first and see if your room is ready. If so, you can check in and freshen up. If not, they hotel will hold your bags. I like spending the first day low key; walk around and orient yourself and maybe do one or two low-intensity things (not hit a major museum). Avoid napping during the day and have an early dinner (in Spain it'll have to be tapas as dinner doesn't start until after 8:00). In Madrid, I love the St Miguel Market which allows a tapas "tour" where you get to try lots of different things from the stalls - see something you like - just order it. Easier than picking from a menu when you are unfamiliar with the food. Also in Madrid is a great local roast chicken place, Casa Minga. Open all day so no need to wait for Spanish dinner time and very simple yet delicious chicken and cider (and that's pretty much it so don't expect lots of options).

I've never done tours and Toledo and Segovia are easy ones to do on your own. But others might weigh in with recommendations.

Flying out of Granada instead of Madrid is good. The train is not the high speed AVE and you'd waste some time doing it. Another option is the Malaga airport.

Posted by
5617 posts

Looks like a great trip in the works, and a great graduation present. We've been in Spain at verious times of year. Just a year ago, last November, Madrid was pleasant but a light jacket was helpful.. Segovia was very windy and much cooler the days we went. Haven't been to Avila, and haven't used a tour guide any of those places.

In Granada, at a pay phone 12 years ago (they had outdoor pay phones back then) ;-) it felt searingly hot the 3rd week of June. Shady spots under trees in the squares were welcome during the day. Evenings were comfortable. Sevilla was pretty warm the following week, but again, we avoided lengthy time out in the direct sun. We bought fans in Sevilla and fanned ourselves to help keep cool, like the locals, who invented Sangria to help cool down, too.

By no means should Andalucia be avoided, and even if 90 degrees was hot for someone, if they stayed hydrated and took other steps to avoid overheating, they would have a fabulous visit.

Consider a visit in Granada to the Hammam Arab baths (described in Rick's Spain guidebook), where you'll experience hot, cool, and cold plunge water -- very relaxing, and a body massage is possible, too. Cordoba has one as well, but we haven't been there.

Posted by
34 posts

Thanks Douglas,
I appreciate the restaurant suggestions in Madrid! I'll capture those and check them out :)

Posted by
16883 posts

Note that the temperature numbers you usually see are monthly averages for daytime highs and overnight lows, but looking at weather.com's day-by-day report from last June, a couple of days mid-month had highs of 100 degrees. I presume you have confirmed AC available at the hotels you've selected. Trains run frequently from Madrid to Avila and Segovia, so I wouldn't use a tour; I'd use the map and info in Rick's Spain book, together with the extras you can pick up at the tourist offices in each town.

Posted by
502 posts

I suggest skipping Gibraltar as a daytrip. It is almost 200 kilometers from Sevilla, about a rwo hour drive with an additional delay at the border crossing. In keeping with your visit to Andalucía I suggest a daytrip to Jerez or Cádiz or Ronda or even an overnight visit to Córdoba.

A word of caution about flying out of Granada on the same day you plan to connect to your return flight home. This is best if you are using the same airline for all flights. My guess is you may be taking a smaller budget airline flight from Granada to Madrid. What happens if that flight is cancelled or late? You run the risk of not being at the Madrid airport in time for your return flight and will there then be fees to change flights? If you do fly on the same day give yourself plenty of time to make your connection. My last Vueling flight left with a three hour delay. If your return flight leaves Madrid in the morning then I think it would be best to spend that last night in Madrid.

Posted by
920 posts

I took my son on a graduation trip in July 2012. We live in SC so high temps are not an issue for us. We arrived in Madrid at 6 AM and had booked the Hotel Europa. We took the subway to the hotel and arrived about sun rise. We took some pictures of the streets emanating from Puerta del Sol and then checked in. As someone else mentioned, go to your hotel and see if you can check in. If not leave your bags and wander! The Hotel Eurpoa is in a great location. We walked almost everywhere. Plenty of sights nearby. We also toured using the hop-on/hop-off bus. The only day trip we made was to Toledo. Definitely recommend this. We flew from there to Normandy, Paris and Barcelona. We used RyanAir, EasyJet and Vueling for the short hop flights. Along the way, the weather was a non-factor. Enjoy the trip!

Posted by
12916 posts

Since you are returning from MAD to BOS, I would leave Madrid for last, that way you will be in town prior to your flight. Returning from GND on the last day will mean extremely early flight and unless it's an Iberia flight with one ticket, it would be risky.
Your flight from BOS probably arrives in the morn. I would go straight to the Atocha station and take the AVE to Sevilla (there are one or two per hour). That will give you a chance to rest on the train. So you visit would actually start from Sevilla, the most beautiful city in Spain.
Gibraltar is far from Sevilla. I've done it only by car (with stop in Jerez) but it's about 3 hr by car when everything is said and done. The bus must be at least 4 to 5 hours.
Personally in you shoes I would stay in Sevilla fewer days, rent a car in Sevilla then take a couple of days to get to Granada. Along the way I would visit Gibraltar and Ronda, and maybe even Nerja, for some beach time. Then I'd return the car in Granada and eventually fly to MAD with Vueling airlines, for the last few days of your trip. I'm not a fan of Madrid, but I like Toledo. You can see Madrid in a couple of days and devote the rest to your time to Toledo. The train from Granada to Madrid takes too long. Fly.

Posted by
14891 posts

As is often the case, I like Roberto's suggestions. . . go straight to Seville and end in Madrid. . . skip Gibraltar . . . consider renting a car from Seville to Granada, driving through the white hill towns (pueblos blancos). Although I don't think you'll save any time by flying from Granada to Madrid. The train is a pleasant ride, about 4.5 hours. Relax, enjoy the scenery, bring a picnic lunch, read, update your travel journal or review your photos. . . By the time you add getting to/from airports and airport security, it could even take you longer and it's a lot more hassle. \

Also consider spending a night in Toledo. You can either leave your luggage at the hotel in Madrid or the train station and just take an overnight bag.

Posted by
251 posts

Sounds like a great trip in the making! And, our fellow Forum members have nailed it - start in Sevilla
and work your back to Madrid. Guess I'm just an old saw but let me suggest once again the your
itinerary is IDEAL for a rental car. Leaving Sevilla you'll easily get to Jerez, Arcos, Ronda, the
white villages and Cordoba. After Granada, I'd head North to Toledo, Avila and Segovia (if time
permits Salamanca is one of my favorite small cities). The hassles of air transport and not worth your
time & euros for a 450 Km trip; the highways are excellent in Spain (and, most of the EU). Trim at
least one and possibly two nights from Madrid and stay in a much smaller and quainter setting
(perhaps Segovia); these small cities are gems. IMO, Madrid is gateway capital with three world
class musuems but too big and too modern to justify more than a night or two (BTW - Barcelona is worth a week but save that for another trip). PM me if you have any car rental questions. Buen viaje!

Posted by
513 posts

Hello,
Your itinerary looks very doable to me. I believe it will give you a great introduction to Spain. In answer to a couple of your questions, I stayed at the Hotel Moderno for four nights in early October of this year ad I found it to be very suitable. It did get a little noisy on Friday night, but when you are only 25 yards from Puerta Del Sol, what else do you expect? I have day tripped to both Toledo and Segovia from Madrid and did not use a tour or guide for either. If you have a god guide book (RS pain will work well for this) can read a map, have cent sens of direction and are not intimidated having to ask directions a time or two, you will do fine, Remember, Toledo trains depart from Atocha station (as well as those for Seville) and Segovia trains go from Chamartin station. Both stations are easily accessible by Metro - and there is a Metro station 50 feet from the front door of the Hotel Moderno. Andalucía in June will b hot, but far from a inferno that people try to frighten you with - that waits to arrive until late July and August. It really all depends on you and your family's heat tolerance . If you have ever visited Florida in mid-summer, you have seen worse heat than Andalucía in June. I recommend purchasing your rail tickets well in advance on line.

Posted by
2705 posts

Looks good to me!

I would do one less day trip and enjoy the places you're in, but what you have is totally fine, this is just my preference and something to think about. Of the 4 you listed, I would say Toledo is the best, then Cordoba, then Avila & Segovia, then Gibraltar. So I'd drop Gibraltar. Cordoba and Toledo are also much closer to Seville and Madrid. For day trips, I'm not a fan of organized tours. I prefer to take the train or rent a car and do it on my own. So that's my advice, I think you get a better sense of the day trip destination that way.

With 2 nights in Granada, I assume one day will be spent at the Alhambra. So I'd take the early train so you can see more of the town outside the Alhambra.

Posted by
9363 posts

Two small comments:

You will not be limited to tapas for an early dinner in Madrid. There are a number of restaurants, like VIPs, that are open all day.

When I was in Andalucia, it was very early May. It was over 100 degrees every day.

Posted by
11805 posts

First, weather is variable. An Air Force friend of mine was stationed in Spain. He describes the weather in southern Spain as "like Arizona". In July and August, it's likely to be 115. In June it may be comfortable or it may be really hot. Hopefully, you'll be there before it really warms up.

In Madrid, for a jet lagged family, I'd go with Retiro Park to be out in the sun. There's a park on the other side of town, where Temple DeBod is located that would also help with being outside in the sunshine and a Botanical Gardens next door to the Prado art gallery. I'd recommend Retiro as the first choice.

I'm not a big fan of Madrid because it's new by European standards, the real history is in Toledo and other Spanish cities. For day trips from Madrid start by checking with the TI. Another choice is any bus station. The bus stations have English speaking information booths who can help sort out your options. They may have some very inexpensive day trip options that include a ride to and from as well as time to explore (or take a guided tour). If not an organized day trip, you can find out the bus schedule to and from and visit the TI when you get there.

Whatever your transportation/guide experience is in Madrid, it will be roughly the same everywhere else you visit.

Of the three places you're staying. I would want more nights in Granada than the others. The Alhambra alone is a full day (two nights) because it's like seeing several sights in one. You won't be visiting an Arab bath elsewhere so be sure to see the one in the Alhambra. It's often overlooked in favor of other sights but is worth seeing. There are other sights to visit in Granada as well. See a Sambra performance in a cave home at night.

Seville is a great place but three nights is perfect because you really want to see the Alcazar, Cathedral and surrounding quarter. At night catch a flamenco performance. You might add the Golden Tower on the river. There will also be bullfights in June but that may or may not be something that interests you. The Plaza de Espana is nice for the gardens but it was built for an exposition, so nothing particularly historical. There are some Roman ruins outside of town that may be worth seeing.

Cordoba is better as a stop on the way from Madrid to Seville rather than a day trip. Schedule a train in the morning from Madrid, stop a minimum of four hours (I'd prefer six) and catch a cab to the Mesquita (or TI to find out about a guided tour). If nothing else, visit the Mesquita and surrounding quarter. There is an Alcazar here, but the one in Seville is the best.

Posted by
14891 posts

Brad is spot on. I loved the Alcazar in Sevilla (and am looking forward to revisiting it in February) but I was underwhelmed by the one in Cordoba. On the other hand, I found Cordoba to be about the nicest Andalusian town in the evenings, so I'd recommend an overnight there. There is a very good horse show http://www.caballerizasreales.com/index.php at 9 p.m. (you will probably need to buy tickets in advance), then have dinner and then wander through the old town. Some of the cafes have live flamenco music.

Posted by
34 posts

Thanks to you all for the awesome comments.
I'm taking a closer look at heading straight from Madrid down to Seville as many of you recommend. I'll have to research the car rental a bit more, but it sounds like a great option getting around.

Posted by
290 posts

Your itinerary looks great and is very plausible. We did an extremely similar trip 2 years ago. While I would have liked a few more days, we didn't feel it was too much in too little time. The day trip to Toledo from Madrid by train was good, try to book train tickets before you leave, and read up on the buses in Toledo, you'll want to take the bus to town from the train schedule, and taking the bus back up the hill to Plaza Zacodover is a faster and less tiresome and sweaty alternative to walking.

You might think about getting a car, it will give you more options. If you have a car, I'd consider substituting one of the Andalusian hill towns for Gibraltar. On our trip, we stayed in Ronda and really liked it. On our trip, we picked up the car on arrival in Madrid and drove to Granada and dropped the car off in Madrid and then stayed 4 nights before flying home. While a car is good, it definitely takes a lot more planning on where to stay, you'll want to plan your routes to and from the hotels to avoid the narrow streets, and to ensure you have a place to park (Google "street view" is invaluable!).

Posted by
1262 posts

Great investment as a grad gift as it should pay off with a life time of memories for all and spark a young mind with food for future thought.

Please consider researching renting an apt in locales where you will stay a minimum of three nights. We have gone to apt rental as a first choice due to our perception of obtaining a better value (more space, several bedrooms, a kitchen, sometimes a terrace, be sure and request air conditioning, typically a landlord used to helping his renters w obtaining a great experience and we find the financial value to be far better than hotels).

How much involvement have you asked your daughters to undertake in actively planning this trip?

Car rental. We often rent in Spain, but our mindset is its okay to wander around and find whatever we stumble upon. If you are renting a car to go from point A to B then I struggle to justify the expense and stress associated with renting a car (especially since you will want to drop the car off upon entering Granada). Great thing about Spain is their wonderful public transport. High speed AVE trains are equal to business class air travel. Purchase your train tickets early for excellent savings. Bus travel is highly comfortable, convenient, constant and a great value.

If it were me........

Fly through Madrid and connect to Granada. This is what our daughter did when she spent a semester abroad in Granada. There will be ample time to make the connection in Madrid and once you check your luggage in Boston you will not need to collect it until arriving in Granada. By doing this you stay in airplane travel mode longer for a day, but reduce the stress of having to pick up your luggage, find transport to the train station, navigate the train station and take the train to your next destination. Granada has a small friendly airport so grabbing your luggage and taking a short cab ride into the town is easy. Depending upon your connection you could arrive around noon or mid afternoon. Highly recommend the first evening involves seeing the Alhambra at night. You must carefully research how to purchase tickets to the Alhambra. You should also return for a daytime visit to Alhambra. Suggest two nights in Granada.

Take the train to Seville and spend three nights. We preferred flemenco in Seville over Granada, but both offer wonderful choices.

Just a thought, there are many choices for study abroad programs (our daughter used CEA) and if there is any consideration being given to study abroad I recommend you devote an hour to meeting a a program advisor while in Seville or Granada. This can be accomplished w minimum effort of internet research and contacting the programs directly. These folks can also potentially be an additional source of local expert information.

From Seville take AVE to madrid w a stop in Cordoba. In Madrid choose wisely your residence w a careful ear attuned to how noisy will be the surroundings. We stay in apts in the Latina district which places us just outside the prime tourist zone, but in a much quieter area. Overal I feel the same about Madrid as Brad espoused, but there are great day trip opportunities.

I do not believe you will need to pay for guided tours as there are so many resources to help you plan a trip to highly effective, and efficient, logistical detail.

The best advice I can provide is to pack really lite. Hauling luggage becomes a pain. Want to hear something crazy? We restricted our teenage daughters to only a carry on each for a two week trip. Oh the cry of agony we heard. Oh the joy of not having to haul luggage. Now they are on their own travels and have adopted the one carry on bag policy and have even thanked us for teaching them this lesson.

Go enjoy creating great memories together!

Posted by
14891 posts

Before you decide on Andalusia, decide what your tolerance for heat is. Andalusia is the hottest, driest area of Europe and has it's only desert. Remember that you will be outside for long periods of time, sometimes with little shade. Look at the daily highs on a website like the weather underground (wunderground.com) or accuweather. Honestly, average temperatures tell you nothing.

I just looked at Seville in June. In 2014 there were 8 days with highs of 90 or more (including 99, 101 and 102). In 2013 there were 18, 8 of which were from 97 to 100.

There are other regions of Spain that may be more sightseeing-friendly in early summer (whatever the calendar says, even early June is summer weather in Spain).

Posted by
7124 posts

Some great suggestions have been given here...

Starting in Granada and finishing in Madrid may work better - book a connecting flight to Granada after your arrival in Madrid from USA.
Trains are easy Granada-Seville-Madrid - definitely no need for rental car.
Day trips sound great but definitely drop Gibraltar - Cadiz or Jerez better options.
Depending on your luggage weight consider Granada (2nts)-Ronda (1nt)-Seville (2nts)-Cordoba (1nt)- Madrid (4nts).
Do not be concerned re June weather. August can be stifling whilst June is pleasantly warm. Hey, it's Spain and heat is part of the mix.

Buen viaje !!

Posted by
34 posts

I again want to extend a huge thank you to all of you for your comments, recommendations and suggestions.
I went ahead and pulled the trigger on the Hotels and changed the airfare to have us start in Granada and work our way back to Madrid. As I looked at the comments and the time, it does make a lot more sense.

One question regarding hotel reservations. The RS Guide seems to always mention making hotel reservations via email direct to the hotel. I booked on various sites, booking.com, Orbitz and tripadvisor and always found the rates cheaper than when I looked at the hotel site. Should I confirm the reservation already made via email?

I'm also flipping coins on whether to cut a day out of Sevilla and add it back to Granada, or my other thought was to pack a separate overnight bag and do a single overnight in Toledo on our way back to Madrid.

Posted by
1262 posts

I suspect you will spend two nights in Granada and the family will develop an itch to move on to Seville. After completing the trip there will be a split vote of "wish we had spent another night in Granada/Seville".
And now you know why we keep returning to Spain as there is so much to do!
Toledo at night can be magical and romantic. If you do it then consider allowing you and the husband a chance to enjoy a dinner solely for the two of you and let the daughters do their own thing (toledo is small and easy to manage.)

Be sure and do the following in irder to gain the maximum benefit grom your trip.........
Be a Spaniard and stay up late. This means not returning to your hotel until after one a.m., minimum.
Seriously, life truly begins after 10 p.m. and to ignore this part of the Spanish culture is wasting the opportuniity to experience a great part of culture. There is a reason for siestas!

Posted by
7124 posts

As someone working in the hotel industry there are definite advantages booking direct with the hotel as any recourse is DIRECTLY with the hotel. Travel sites introduce a third party and you only have recourse THROUGH THAT THIRD PARTY.
So you have to weigh up the cost difference. Similarly with payment up front (with no changes or cancellation allowed) versus credit card guarantee (with cancellation possible).
An email direct never hurts though, say to advise arrival time or room preference.